The new film from Ang Lee, filmmaker, globetrotter at the filmography unlikely (Hulk, Brokeback Mountain, crouching Tiger, hidden Dragon…), continues the study of cults, beliefs and morals in the u.s. started twenty years ago with the Ice Storm (1997).
In A DAY IN THE LIFE OF BILLY LYNN, Lee presents a portrait without concession of an America post-Saddam folded on itself, unable to grasp the geopolitical issues of the modern world without the comforting presence of God and, more hauntingly, the Entertainment. The film plunges us into a road trip nightmare of a military unit – the Bravo – during a commemoration as only America can offer. Resulting from a so-called heroic feat performed in Iraq – a part of this feat was filmed and broadcast around the world – this “tribute” of the unit in question stirs different instances, which then will try to appropriate it, and necessarily to capitalize on it.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF BILLY LYNN is a huge firebrand launched against the entertainment industry, to his bad taste assumed, as well as its propaganda touted by a capitalist ideology and warmongering. All the images dehumanised the “show in the u.s. is going ; heads of company (oil, football team and US) to the media (Hollywood, the press, everyone takes for his grade. Mise en abyme of the behind-the-scenes with the scenes of the event, the film shows an ironic sardonic deafening. This show, the central motif of the film, takes on a political value when the border (sensory) between Iraq and a football stadium, transformed at half-time in the concert hall way to the Super Bowl, seems to disappear through the lost gaze of the young Billy Lynn. Lee is thus an analogy between the sounds of the show (the fireworks) and those of war (explosions), between different sets of light blinding, as if the entire industry and its leads visual effects were involved in the military industry, at least in the picture that it gives us. A visual chaos and noise, as unsightly as overrated, which attack both the retina and the brain.
Building on alternating with flashbacks traumatic stress (the so-called achievement covering something much more tragic), the film manages a few beautiful transitions with a few mount points absolutely terrifying. The imagery of the show, the quest for hyper-realism (filming in 4K and at 120 frames per second) and the detail, of the worship of a reality that is more true-to-nature nurtures as well the staging of the film, going so far as to encroach on our perception of Iraq. Fiction overlaps reality to become the advertising image – a close-up of an expressionless face projected on a giant screen, a symptom of our loss of bearings, and in a more comprehensive manner, of the identity problem that plagues the United States. The film manages to exceed the pamphlet through a critique of the glorification of which his soldiers, the demons of post-traumatic stress more or less buried, are often the figures right.
The love story sold by Lee – a romance between Billy and a cheerleader furtively met at the stage – is as much a cliché of hollywood cinema as an archetype symbolic the value of which policy is essential : between the feeling of fascination and désaveux, imaging the military has become a prime target for Hollywood. If the cult of the soldier remains alive (by his uniform, his weapons, or his medals), their mission, in other words, the heroic action, seems a lot more blurry and more contrasted than ever. Of course, the lies of government (the nuclear weapons in Iraq ?) can’t have helped. And if americans begin to doubt their own myths, their own beliefs (the largest democracy in the world?) the first victims will always be the soldiers, the last bastion of power flickering, now less well supported than what they promised the famous slogan : “support our troops “. And yet, despite this disenchantment, and the pounce media that they are victims of more or less willing (they want to make the film of their achievement for financial reasons), they appear to be more fused than ever. The fraternal union, because of their common experience, revealed a very strong feeling, an extraordinary love that Lee sketch of naive and touching (the “I love you” that they keep repeating them). The front in iraq becomes almost synonymous with a haven of peace in the face of this monstrosity that is the world of the show in which they are balanced and delivered to themselves.
Although the flashbacks are stealthy, they are also a clarity, a clairvoyance beyond belief on the relations that unite Billy with his relatives : “sister-gaucho” (Kristen Stewart), who wants at all costs to save his brother and get out of the army, is not by principle (anti-militarist), but by love (brotherly) image of the paternalistic attitude of the staff sergeant of the Bravo (Vin Diesel). It was nice to philosophize on the destiny of man, on his spiritual foundation (of Jesus christ to the hindu divinities), to invite them to find something beyond, something transcendent, it remains eminently human in that it comprises more tragic. The camera even goes so far as to insist, for close-ups, front-end, on this idea of address, target to reach, that can touch some of the speeches in the image of some balls ; all of this emotional dimension, both pure and striking, the face filmed in-camera. There is a necessity to question, to say what a farce and what a mess the picture is capable of doing. The american cinema, since the assassination of Kennedy in 1963, is moved by his images of the real (the 11/09 and now the images of Iraq or Syria) that come to haunt his memory and the entire spectrum of the hollywood imagery for better and for worse. If some see it as the possible creation of new myths (a perspective very propagandist and therefore totalitarian), Lee reminds all of the ambiguity of the realistic image.
“A DAY IN THE LIFE OF BILLY LYNN denounces the artifice in the manner of a Verhoeven” Click To Tweet
If the courage, or the personality “virgin”, Billy Lynn is not to question it, especially that the actual “feat” is out-of-field, the film manifests something more important than this “micro-achievement,” exacerbated by certain. It is the dimension of identity, loss of landmarks, largely exceeding the framework of an image, all too easily manipulated to be illusory. It is, therefore, the image of a youth abandoned, of which the native country has nothing more to offer (or work, values, or culture), preferring to go into a far country and overseas. There is a speech anxiety and current that comes in to play, like a fun-house mirror, the role of an alarm. The spectatorship of the images reported from the front are dangerous both at a distance and in the fascination that they provide for the spectator. The two trends, the extremists, make the soldier a target always easier and fragile, while the problem is obviously elsewhere. A far cry from the image of the puppet, Lee paints a picture of “clown sad” : they cry a country in which they do not recognize themselves as much as the inexorable return to a country that is not their own. Countries where they are targeted and hunted, where their lives are played out at every moment, but when the combat is done with equal arms, between men, or rather between warriors.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF BILLY LYNN is getting closer to the cinema at the vitriol of Verhoeven (Starship Troopers), in a manner to expose the artifices of propaganda, the culture of the spectacle, the performance, the show combined with a vulgarity, moral decay, and increasingly demeaning by its stupidity. Lee delivers a great modern film, perhaps his best, with a true reflection on the medium, on heroism and on our civilization of the image including the representation of the political is one of the biggest issues of our time.
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• Production : Ang Lee
• Scenario :Jean-Christophe Castelli after Ben Fountain
• Key players : Joe Alwyn, Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund
• Release Date : February 1, 2017
• Duration : 1h53min